Sunday, May 1, 2011

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 2:42-47; 1 Pet 1:3-9; Jn 20:19-31

On Easter Sunday we celebrated the great event of Jesus’ Resurrection—that moment when His Heavenly Father vindicated his life work and ministry by receiving him into the fullness of Divine Glory. This Sunday and those which immediately follow consider how we are to assimilate and live that message in our lives. The question for these Sundays is: how are we a Resurrection People?

Today’s scriptural readings give us three widely differing responses to that question. The first, from the Acts of the Apostles, presents an ideal picture of the happy and harmonious life of the first followers of Jesus. "They devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles, to the common life, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers. .... They ate their meals with glad and joyful hearts." It’s the kind of description you read in vocation literature today. The second reading, from 1 Peter, gives a quite different response to the Resurrection message. It says the Resurrection has given us "a living hope" that will sustain us in the midst of the sufferings of life. That’s a much more modest and believable assessment. That would be a road we could follow. But then the third reading, the gospel story of the Doubting Thomas, causes us again to pause. It tells us that even to get to that "living hope" will require a struggling with doubt and uncertainty. In sum, these three readings tell us that "believing in the Resurrection of Jesus" has a great goal but that it’s no picnic in the park getting there.

I suppose the question that these readings raise for all of us is: how do we become and remain men and women of "living hope?" Whenever the subject of hope comes up, I’m always taken back to my first real introduction to that virtue in the life story of Fr. William Lynch. William Lynch was a Jesuit priest who taught the classics at Fordham University in New York City. While he was in the full stature of a professor, he experienced a nervous breakdown, falling into a debilitating depression that required extensive hospitalization. During his lengthy stay in the psychiatric hospital he slowly and painfully regained a hope in life. He later told of his regaining hope in one of his most famous books, Images of Hope. He describes vividly the painful little steps by which he could once again see a future in life. His first step was trusting someone else to assist him in the task: first, the psychiatrist, then some of the other patients in the hospital. This experience convinced Fr. Lynch that true hope—true Christian hope—is only gained and experienced communally.

And I think that’s one of the reasons we hear that idealistic description of community life in the first reading today. It’s to highlight the assertion that Resurrection-faith is really an action of community hope, a "living hope" that will sustain us in the struggles of life. And we do it together. And we do it together.

The real message of these scriptural readings is how much we need each other. That’s the essence of a real religious community. I was amazed when I read in Fr. Matthew Kelty’s Gethsemani Homilies his reflections on 50 years as a monk in the monastery of Gethsemani. He said in all that time there wasn’t a single person he met in the house that he would personally choose as a friend. He continued "but we are all brothers and there’s a lot of love in this place." It’s a love that based on respect, not necessarily "liking" people. The hope that sustains us springs up in our midst and we all contribute something to it. That’s one of the miracles of Easter.

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